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Review: Kuné performance delivers welcome message of inclusivity

From the Winnipeg Free Press

By Holly Harris

In a brave new world increasingly fractured and fuelled by schisms of “us” and “them,” the Winnipeg debut of Kuné proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that cultural harmony can – and does – exist through the power and wonder of art.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, led by Julian Pellicano, presented the 11-piece band — billed as “Canada’s Global Orchestra” — Friday night as the first of three weekend Pops concerts.

The band’s name, Kuné, translates from Esperanto as “together.” Conceived by founder Mervon Mehta, executive director of performing arts at The Royal Conservatory of Music, the ensemble is composed of virtuoso musicians hailing from all corners of the world who now call Canada home. It’s led by David Buchbinder and launched at Toronto’s Koerner Hall in July 2017, releasing a critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album in April 2018.

It’s a feather in the WSO’s cap that this group that continues to tour throughout North America with its message of inclusivity performed its inaugural symphonic concert in our fair city, with a subsequent date slated for next month with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.

The program included only two works by proverbial dead white composers: in this case, Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance No. 6,” and Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia.” It featured 12 original works penned by respective members of the band. Each musician took turns at the microphone to introduce their own piece, levelling the playing field while instilling a wonderful democratic sensibility into the evening in which all were equal.

Beyond the eye-popping sight of 11 disparate musicians – selected from 150 players who auditioned – performing together on 25 world instruments including Indian sitar, Greek oud, African djembe, and Chinese bamboo flutes, as well as more traditional fare: clarinet, saxophones, drum kit, electric guitar and bass, one of the evening’s most powerful moments arrived early with “Lahzeye Sokut.” The haunting work’s deeply moving opening solo by Iranian tar player Padideh Ahrarnejad, dedicated to the memory of the Tehran airliner crash victims, became balm for the soul in the way that only music can.

Pride of place belonged to Winnipeg-born violinist/violist Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, introducing herself as the band’s “Canadian-Indigenous representative,” who treated listeners to her own “We Met in Tkaranto,” a rousing Métis-fiddle tune-inspired combustion that became a wonderful celebration of cultural pluralism – even more resonant in “Turtle Island.”

Another still point became “Navae e Sarosh,” featuring Indian sitarist Anwar Khurshid in his own composition that seemed to suspend time itself; while “Jasmin in Bamboo” featured Dora Wang’s eloquent Chinese flute solos performed with dignity and grace – also heard during Greek lyra/guitar/oud player Demetri Petsalakis’s evocative “Wind,” co-written with African percussionist/flutist Lasso and Delbaere-Sawchuk, that highlighted his hypnotic playing punctuated by Lasso’s own vocals.

Programming is often a mysteriously alchemic process, and the show wisely balanced pieces featuring the band alone, with others including orchestral accompaniment. One of the offerings in the former category, “Earth,” dedicated to late Tibetan artist Dorjee Tsering, also showcased the soaring vocals of Brazilian-born, Juno-award nominated Aline Morales.

Morales often traded in her Latin drums to belt out numbers including her own “Iemanja,” resonating as an invocation to the “goddess of the ocean,” while also sharing she had never heard a full orchestra perform live – nor experienced the deep freeze cold of a January in “Winterpeg.”

Read the full review.